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IOWA CITY — Practices don't always run perfectly. Results of games sometimes don't go your way.
Garrett Hartwig doesn't take that disappointment home, doesn't let it eat at him. Football is football, sports are sports.
There are more important things, something he learned 15 years ago.
The Iowa City West head coach was still in his teens when he suddenly lost his younger sister, McKenzie. They were both students at the University of South Dakota: he was a football player, she was a freshman volleyball player.
McKenzie Hartwig got sick after a tournament her team played at the University of North Dakota and died later that night. The diagnosis was meningitis.
'It gives you perspective,' Hartwig said. 'At the end of the day, no matter how frustrated you might be, you have to let it go. You know, when you leave our field, you have to walk up a hill. As soon as you do that and get to your car, you leave everything behind.'
Hartwig is honored today as The Gazette's 2016 prep football Coach of the Year. His Trojans overcame a 3-2 start to make it to the Class 4A state championship game.
West lost to West Des Moines Dowling, 23-10. That was disappointing but couldn't diminish what was accomplished.
'A fun year,' Hartwig said. 'It's always rewarding to see hard work pay off.'
He's talking about the hard work of his players and assistant coaches. Hartwig stressed repeatedly the importance of his staff: Tyler Meade, Andrew Durham, Travis Meade, Josh Flammang and Chad Geary.
They've been together for awhile. This was Hartwig's third season as head coach, serving previously as defensive coordinator for six years under Brian Sauser.
'I don't consider myself to be the leader,' Hartwig said. 'We stand shoulder to shoulder. I honestly felt I was just along for the ride at times.'
The 35-year-old Hartwig was selected to replace Sauser on an interim basis when Sauser left West for a job at Yukon, Okla. West went 7-5 and won two playoff games in 2014, and the 'interim' tag was removed.
West went 4-7 last season but won a playoff game. Things really came together this season ... eventually.
Back-to-back losses to Iowa City High and Cedar Rapids Prairie made many think the Trojans were an also-ran, but West rolled off seven straight wins from there. Hartwig said the team focused internally in an attempt to correct errors that were short-circuiting it.
'I didn't know if I'd like it, didn't know if I'd love it, didn't know if I'd hate it,' Hartwig said about being a head coach.
Coaches surround him in his family.
His father, Ken, was his basketball coach growing up and also coached the Pinedale, Wyo., downhill ski team. Yes, that's a varsity sport in his hometown.
Hartwig's father-in-law, Dave Triplett, was a former assistant coach at Iowa and a longtime head coach at South Dakota. His brother-in-law, Tim Triplett, is an assistant coach at Division III power St. Thomas (Minn.).
Hartwig met his wife, Emily, at USD.
'Coaching is something I've been around my whole life,' he said.
The non-profit McKenzie Meningitis Foundation was established in 2002 by Ken and Laurie Hartwig. Its mission is to educate others about meningococcal meningitis and provide funds to those who cannot afford to participate in Wyoming's vaccination program or who are too old to be a part of it.
'I'd never heard of the disease until my sister passed. She was pretty special,' Hartwig said. 'At the end of the day, it's just football. What you learn as a coach is what matters most is the kids' experience. When it's all said and done, it's not life and death. It's a game.'
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